Five years after the last Stooges album, the band is working on new material, bassist Mike Watt tells Rolling Stone. "I'll tell you this: James Williamson a few months ago had me put bass on nine songs that he gave to Ig [Iggy Pop] and Ig is writing up words," says Watt, who's played with the Stooges since 2003. "So I just know there are new tunes and in fact in November he wants me to do some more. I don't know about some album or whatever or what the plan is with that stuff, but very interesting."
The band hasn't released any new music since The Weirdness in 2007, and Williamson hasn't played on a Stooges record since their third album, 1973's Raw Power. He rejoined the group in 2009 following the death of guitarist Ron Asheton from a heart attack.
Although any new tracks are obviously in their inception stage, Williamson brings a noticeable difference in sound, Watt says. "The Raw Power stuff, for me, is always different than the first two albums, they're just different kinds of musicians, James Williamson and Ron Asheton," he says. "This sounds more like James Williamson, more like the guy who's playing guitar on Raw Power than the guy who's playing on Fun House." (Asheton played bass on Raw Power.)
For Watt, who still views himself first as a Stooges fan, the thought of new material is exciting on many levels. "I think James came up with some good licks and the way Ig fleshes them out, I'm very curious," he says. "But I don’t know if they have an album planned. I'm also looking at it as, 'Whoa, maybe new songs to do at gigs.'"
Watt and the Stooges perform this weekend at Chicago's Riot Fest alongside acts like Elvis Costello, the Descendants, hometown heroes Rise Against, Fishbone and dozens more. Founded in 2005, the festival is a three-day affair this year, with two days happening outdoors at Humboldt Park.
After a summer of festival gigs in Europe, Watt is thrilled to see another big event Stateside. "It's interesting this is starting to happen in the U.S. too," Watt says. "I think that's a good thing because people get turned onto bands that maybe they wouldn't see otherwise. So I think what Mike [Petryshyn, festival co-founder] is doing is fucking happening as far as building a scene."
Riot Fest's Chicago lineup may not have the obvious eclecticism of bills like Coachella and Lollapalooza, but the presence of Costello, Gaslight Anthem, Awolnation, Dropkick Murphys, Dead Sara, Of Mice and Men and dozens more offers a wide array of choices. Petryshyn, who expects to keep the festival manageable with 30,000 people per day this weekend, is trying to foster musical knowledge among his audience.
"We started off as strictly a punk-rock fest and within the last few years we’ve been changing that dynamic a little bit," he says. "We see the line between all these bands and hopefully other people will too. I think a lot of these bands, with the kids, it's resonating and it's great to see. They know the name, but they never heard any other stuff. I think there are a lot of kids in Chicago walking around listening to the Descendants now more so than they were two or three years ago."
Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath sees this as a chance to play a festival among his people. "The punk scene is where I feel comfortable and the punk scene is what's gonna be there for Rise Against long after the fickle taste of the radio and MTV listeners have moved onto something else," he says. "I feel at home at a place like Riot Fest."